“What happens when an unstoppable force meets an immovable object?” The question is appropriate when applied to the South China Sea contentions (the term “dispute” is already too loaded).
Through the past ten years of going back and forth on the issue amongst contenders who claim dominance over the South China Sea (SCS),, there has been no immovable object nor unstoppable force aimed at any of the contending nations.
This is thanks to the sobriety, pragmatism and plain good common sense of the three major parties, i.e., China, Vietnam and the Philippines, as well the minor parties Malaysia, Brunei and Indonesia. Taiwan is in another category and a special case.
The major and minor parties navigated the potentially rough waters of the SCS controversy very early on due to the paramount importance of the SCS oil, gas and fisheries resources that were recognized as essential to the economic and political needs of the SCS littoral countries.
The interests of the littoral countries in the resources of the SCS heightened after the first experiences of the global oil crises of the 70s through the 80s and particularly after the ratification of the UNCLOS by most Un-member countries in 1982.
Countries such as China took the early initiative of formalizing claims in 1947 by its representative of China who was based in today’s Taiwan province. The Philippines’ President Ferdinand Marcos, Sr. also declared the SCS island closest to it as “terra nullius” as the “Kalayaan Island Group” and Philippine territory.
Territorial claims become immovable objects when they require a country to effectively occupy, administer, develop and defend the claimed territory. By these requirements, the claiming state is obliged to be unmovable in its claim – until an unstoppable force attempts to move it.
Counting territorial wars since 1945, these number 75, including the Indo-Pakistan War of 1947, the Korean War in the 1950s, the Vietnam war in the 60s-70s, the Falklands War in the 80s, the Yugoslav War in the 90s, Afghanistan in 2000s and now the Ukraine War over its Western territories.
A rough estimate of the deaths from all those 75 wars is 12,000,000 and growing with the Ukraine War now contributing around 200,000 deaths – and still counting. That is the high cost of territorial wars, not counting the economic costs that stretch into decades.
Throughout these decades of territorial wars, the only real net gainers are the defense industries of the major defense materiel producing countries on which the warring countries depend for the supply of killing machines and weapons. These defense industries enjoy profits running into trillions of dollars.
For these sordid reasons, the littoral states around the SCS decided early on to engage in dialogue and negotiations to resolve the disputes, especially after the China-Vietnamese skirmishes of 1974 over parts of the Paracels Islands and 1988 battle for the Johnson South Reef that the latter lost.
That’s what happens when an unstoppable force is faced head-on by an immovable object: one side loses or one side loses more than the other, but all suffer some loss. China and the ASEAN have learned these lessons well, especially after China reemphasized that it always seeks “Win-Win” solutions.
Hence, China and ASEAN signed the Declaration of Conduct of Parties (DOC) in the South China Sea in 2012, setting out in detail rules of engagement for the parties to achieve peace and stability on the basis of consensus even as negotiations continue to resolve issues to the satisfaction of all parties.
Due to the talks between China and ASEAN, the DOC has graduated into the Code of Conduct to manage tensions in the SCS. This may soon be fully signed under the Indonesia, the 2023 ASEAN Chair, who has underlined the importance of its final approval.
The COC had been delayed by the constant interference of the U.S. through its proxy within the Philippine diplomatic bureaucracy. It was former foreign secretary, Teodoro Locsin who insisted “Here is the non-negotiable: The COC will never exclude a Western Power, well the United States, from the area…”
I refer to this disgusting experience with Locsin to mention the recent experience with the Philippine Supreme Court (SC) who announced a suspiciously timed, erroneous and misleading decision on a case that our colleague Ado Paglinawan correctly described as “moot and academic.”
This is the case of the 2005 Joint Marine Seismic Undertaking (JMSU) that put together the Philippines, Vietnam and China in a joint exploration project to discover marine resources in the disputed waters around the Philippines.
The tripartite project was a great exercise in multilateralism and showed successful Asian cooperation to achieve a common goal, a project that the U.S. opposed and along with its local minions among the Amboys (American boys) and the pseudo-nationalist Left.
The U.S. position was laid out in a 2010 CSIS (Center for Strategic and International Studies) paper “The JMSU: A Tale of Bilateralism and Secrecy in the SCS.” But it is none of the business of the U.S. in the first place and it is for the three Asian nations to decide for themselves.
The Philippine Amboys in the senate did their demolition job and, aided by oligarchy-controlled Philippine mainstream media and the pseudo-nationalist Left, to work on the Supreme Court: the issue is a Philippine constitutional provision on Filipino rights over national patrimony.
To make the controversy short, the SC announced its contrary decision on January 10, 2023, just five days after President Bongbong Marcos returned from his spectacular state visit to China to bring home “the siopao”, including the resumption of the Joint PHL-China Oil/Gas project talks.
The PHL-China old-gas exploration 60/40 talks, which favor the PHL is a crucial foundation to achieve Philippine energy independence and generate trillions of pesos for economic development that will lift the nation into upper middle-income status within the next generation.
The PHL-China joint oil-gas exploration project will also ensure that the unstoppable force will meet the immovable object, but not in a clash but rather in the harmony of interests and cooperation that ensures the “win-win” gain for both parties, as well set the template for future resolutions of other disputes.
The project, was the subject of a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) between President Duterte and President Xi Jinping in 2018. Just four months before the end of his six-year term in March2023, President Duterte reminded to “Heed Commitment on Joint Oil Exploration to avoid conflict.”
However, Amboy Teddyboy Locsin announced on June 23, 2023, the last week of the Duterte administration and one week before the inauguration of the new President Bongbong Marcos, Jr., the “termination” of the PHL-China joint oil-gas exploration talks.
The new administration of Marcos Jr. bided its time and let six months pass. Then in January, he unveiled his continuation of President Duterte’s “pivot to China” policy, making crystal-clear that China is the priority in foreign relations (after ASEAN of course) and not the West.
ON January 4, 2023 during his state visit talks with President Xi Jinping, Marcos Jr. told the former that “I really hope—I would very much like, as you have suggested, Mr. President, to be able to announce that we are continuing negotiations.” This was headlined in the Philippine media.
Marcos added, “We hope that these negotiations will bear fruit because the pressure upon not only China, not only the Philippines but the rest of the world to move away from the traditional fronts of power.” This must have shaken the U.S. to take action with the Philippine SC.
The SC decision cannot hold water: it suggests the exercise of Philippine sovereignty over the EEZ while the country only has disputed sovereign rights even as defined by the arbitration “award” that the proponents of protectionism cite as basis.
The context of the preamble of the Philippine Constitution, as well as paragraph 4 of section 2, Article XII, demands that the Philippine government “promote the common good, conserve and develop our patrimony…” In this instance, it cannot be achieved without cooperation of other foreign parties.
Paragraph 4, section 2 of Art. XII, which I believe is what was used by Duterte lawyer and spokesman Harry Roque, says “The President may enter into agreements with foreign-owned corporations … for … exploration, development, and utilization of minerals, petroleum… based on real contributions to the economic growth and general welfare of the country.”
The SC seems to anchor its argument only on one paragraph of Section 2, Article XII without putting it in the context of the entire Constitution including its preamble. The SC is merely an interpreter of the Constitution and its interpretation can be very narrow or broad as politics requires.
However, a President is not just an interpreter of the law but also the realities of the political demands of the times and the people. Most crucially, he is interpreter of geopolitical realities and his mission is to promote the nation’s welfare and prosperity.
The Philippines’ political system sustains a strong president to give the chief executive enough leeway to exercise judgment and decisive action. President Marcos Jr. had made clear statements that he will pursue the talks on the joint PHL-China oil exploration talks that he must push to “fruition”.
As Atty. Harry Roques suggested, the President must instruct his Solicitor General to file a Motion for Reconsideration to correct the SC decision. The President can also negotiate a special treaty on the project that surmount the objections presented and be made part of the law of the land.
The President can even call a referendum: the issue is indeed important enough to consider such dramatic political action to get the affirmation of the nation. Properly explained by the President, the people will no doubt approve the project.
In this case, the enemies of Philippine progress and the country’s liberation from lingering US neo-colonialism are the Salim group headed in the Philippines by Manny Pangilinan. Backed by the U.S. and Leftist pseudo-patriots, these are going for broke to stop PHL-China cooperation for peace and prosperity.
The enemies of Philippine progress and prosperity are raising hell to stop the PHL-China oil-gas cooperation. They are pushing the clash of the unstoppable force and the immovable object to corner the oil and gas for itself and for the U.S. arms peddlers to profit from the conflict. We are not as stupid as the Ukrainian political leaders. We will not allow this.